Kashmir Shaivism versus Vedanta – A Synopsis

by Piyaray L. Raina

This presentation was made by the author at the WAVES (World Association of Vedic Studies) symposium in the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, RI, USA – July 12-14, 2002

Vedas, which are considered revealed knowledge through the medium of Indian seers (rishis), are revered as mother of all religions in India. They form the matrix of all the theistic philosophies of Indian religions including Kashmir Shaivism. Therefore, the objective here is not to compare Vedas with Kashmir Shaivism but to present their complementary roles in the development of post- vedic India.

I. Background

It is said at the end of the Mahabharata war, which symbolizes the end of the Dvapura Era and the beginning of the Kalyuga Era, through which we are passing now, the influence of Vedas dwindled as the Vedic seers disappeared. New class of seers emerged from time to time who interpreted Vedic knowledge for the benefit of suffering humanity. Thus six systems of Vedic schools called darshanas came into being. These are: 1. Samklya
2. Yoga
3. Nyaya
4. Vaisheshika
5. Purva mimamasa
6. Advaita Vedanta

The last one Advaita Vedanta was propounded by Shankaracharya in the 9th century AD and culminated in the final interpretation of Vedas (Ved –anta – end of Vedas). Although these Vedic darshanas differ in their approach to the interpretation of Vedas but all of them consider Vedas as their base.

The focus of all these systems (darshanas) was to explain or resolve the dichotomy between subject and object; the knower and the known; the Cosmic Self and this self; I (aham) and this self (idam). We may group all these systems as Vedanta for the sake of this discussion.

II. Kashmir Shaivism

Along with this group of seers, another group of seers tried to resolve this dichotomy by investigating their inner nature. They carried experiments on their bodies by employing yogic practices confined to mental processes and came out with their findings in poetic terms using metaphors, symbols, and allegories. This yogic practice came to be known as Tantra. As against the Vedic knowledge, which came mainly through the process of revelation, the tantric knowledge came mainly through various forms of practices (kriyas). Tantric practices were “inward” by nature i.e. they centered around psychophysical makeup of the practitioner as compared to the “outward” nature of Vedic practices, which focus on sacrificial ceremonies along with yoga.

Over a period of time thousands of tantric traditions developed in India and abroad, which came to be classified under three major categories a) Shaiva-Shakti Tantrism,
b) Buddhist Tantrism, and
c) Vaishnava Tantrism.

Shaiva-Shakti Tantrism which recognizes Lord Shiva as the Supreme and Absolute Consciousness with Shakti as His dynamic energy came to be known as Shaivism and developed in three widely apart regions in India: a) Kashmir in the north,
b) Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south, and
c) Gauda (Bengal) in the east.

The tantric practices prevalent in these regions came to be grouped under six traditions: a) Shaiva Sidanta,
b) Pashupati Shaivism,
c) Kashmir Shaivism,
d) Vira Shaivism,
e) Shiva Advanta, and
f) Siddha Sidhanta.

It is Kashmir Shaivism that provided the philosophy of Trika, which provided relationship between God, nature, and man. It also provided the philosophy of Shiv-Shakti and Nara (man), which forms the main philosophy (Vidya Pada) of all Shaivic philosophies.

Kashmir Shaivism is a theistic philosophy that identifies Lord Shiva as the Absolute, Infinite, and pure Consciousness lying beyond the reach of speech, mind, and intellect. It is transcendental and immanent and can be realized through yoga. It advocates how a human being engrossed in the inferior objective world of Lord Shiva can be taken upwards i.e. towards the Supreme energy of Lord Shiva through his cognac energy (Shakti). It was in Kashmir Shaivism that the concept of dynamic energy (Shakti) playing an important role in the evolution of cosmos was introduced.

The development of Kashmir Shaivic philosophy can be traced back to Aagamas (18) which were written from 3rd century BC to 3rd – 4th century AD. Malinivijayattara is the most important Aagama of this period. Vasugupta who lived in Kashmir during the end of the 8th century AD wrote Shiv Sutra and it was his disciple Bhatta Kalatta (mid 9th century AD) who wrote Spanda Karika. Somananda wrote Shiv dreshti in late 9th century AD. He is the father of Pritibijna (recognition) school that forms the basis of Kashmir Shaivism philosophy. However, it was his worthy disciple Utpaldeva who presented the Pritibijna philosophy in a comprehensive way in his book Ishvara-pratiyabijna-karika in late 9th century or beginning of the 10th century AD. Later on, it was Abhinavgupta (between 10th – 11th century AD) who summarized the view points of all previous thinkers and presented the philosophy in a logical way along with his own thoughts in his treatise Tantraloka. Thus one could say just as Shankaracharya was the last exponent of Vedic knowlegde, Abhinavgupta was the last exponent of Kashmir Shaivism.

The main philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism rests on the non-dualistic foundation. Abhinavgupta used the word paradvaita– the supreme and absolute non-dualism to describe Kashmir Shaivism.

A casual reader may not be able to make out the differences in the final presentation of philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism and Vedanta. However, careful analysis and reading will reveal the differences. But before getting into the differences let us first go over to the commonalties.

III. Common Concepts

The common concepts of Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism may be summarized as follows:

1. Cyclic nature of eternity
Both believe in the cyclic nature of eternity that consists of vast phases of creation, preservation, and their dissolution.

2. Bound Soul
Both accept the belief that life and death are but two phases of a single cycle to which soul is bound.

3. Dharma
Both accept dharma as the moral law of universe that accounts for these eternal cycles of nature as well as the destiny of human soul in its evolution.

4. Moksha
Both accept that knowledge is the path of freedom and yoga as the method of attaining liberation.

5. Chit (Consciousness)
Both recognize consciousness as Supreme Reality. Vedanta calls it Parmatma whereas Shaivites call it Parmshiva.

IV. Points of Disagreement

Some of the points of disagreement are:

1. Ultimate Reality
The one creative force out of which everything emerges is known as Ultimate Reality. According to Vedanta, Brahman (chit) is the Ultimate Reality, while Kashmir Shaivism calls this Ultimate Reality as Parmshiva. Brahman is believed to have no activity (kriya.) It is the knowledge (prakash or jnana). As per Kashmir Shaivism, Parmshiva is knowledge (prakash/jnana) plus activity (kriya or vimarsha). Vedanta consider activity (kriya) residing only in the empirical subject (Jiva) and not in Brahman. Shivites on the other hand think that Vedanta takes kriya in a very narrow sense whereas it should be taken in a wider sense.

They argue that even knowledge (jnana) is an activity (kriya) of the Divine, without activity chit or the Divine Being would be inert and incapable of bringing about anything, least of all the whole cosmos. Parmshiva is svatantra (has free will) and therefore is a Karta (doer). Knowledge (jnana) is not a passive state of consciousness but an activity of consciousness, though an effortless one. Knowledge is not really like the reflection of moon in a pond; in knowledge there is an active “grasping” on the part of the knower which is an activity of mind (kriya).

2. Monotheism
While monotheism is one of the central principles of most of the Vedantic philosophies, it is interpreted differently by its various schools. Advaita Vedanta explains the problem of phenomenal existence on the basis of two mutually exclusive and independent entities. The first is known as Brahman (pure consciousness) and the second Avidya (inexplicable ignorance) as an attachment (upadi). Both are said to be beginning less in existence. Kashmir Shaivism does not agree with the concept of Avidya to explain the phenomenal existence. Abhinavgupta in his treatise on Kashmir Shaivism, Tantraloka, refutes this concept. “The principle of absolute existence of ‘Brahman’ along with ‘Avidya’ as an upadi cannot be accepted as a definite principle of pure monotheism” (ibid. 111:404) because it implies the eternal existence of two entities – Brahaman and Avidya, which amounts to clear dualism. He further states “there is self- contradiction in saying that Avidya is indescribable as very statement that Avidya is a divine power of God implies that such a power is describable.

3. Manifestation (Abhasvada)
Vendanta states that phenomenal universe we live in is not real. It only appears as an existent reality. It is other than what it seems e.g. like a rope mistaken for a snake. It is like a dream or a mirage – Vivarta. Brahman exists but appears falsely as God, finite soul (Purusha) and insentient matter (prakriti).

Abinavgupta contradicts these assumptions by stating “how can it be unreal when it is manifested. This has to be given due consideration. An entity that appears clearly and creates the whole universe must be something real and substantial and should be described as such”. (Ishvarpritabijna 111-80)

4. Manifestation Process
Manifestation of cosmos as per Kashmir Shaivism is called “Descent” – which means descent of cosmic self (Parmashiva) to a limited self (Jiva). Vedanta explains this process of manifestation through 25 elements. Kashmir Shaivism explains the cosmic evolution through 36 elements (tattvas) which include 23 elements of Vedanta without modification, 2 with modification, and prescribes 11 more elements (tattvas).

Parmshiva of Kashmir Shaivism is not the same Shiva of Vedanta who is meditating at Mount Kailash with Parvati by His side. Parmshiva is a Being, not necessarily in physical sense, who is Absolute, pure, eternal, infinite, and totally free I-consciousness whose essential nature is vibrant creative energy which Kashmir Shaivism describes as wonderful spiritual stir of blissfulness known as spanda. This spanda causes Absolute Reality to be continuously inclined towards the outward and joyful manifestation of its creative energy – Shakti. This manifestation is brought about by the freewill play (leela) of Parmshiva Himself like a childs’ play that is without motivation. The outward divine manifestation of this creative energy appears in five activities: 1. The activity of creation.
2. The activity of preservation.
3. The activity of dissolution of all the elements including the beings living in them. 4. The activity of self-oblivion.
5. The activity of self-recognition of these created beings.

Stages 1-3 are common to both Kashmir Shaivism as well as Vedanta. However, Stages 4 and 5 listed above are present in Kashmir Shaivism only.

Kashmir Shaivism includes 36 elements (tattvas) of manifestation process as mentioned earlier. These are categorized into following four major and their sub-categories:

A. Five pure (shudh) elements – These are called ‘Pure’ because they have been created by Parmshiva Himself as against others which have been created by intermediary and lower beings as per the wishes of Lord Himself.

1. Shiva Tattva

2. Shakti Tattva

These two tattvas are only a linguistic convention and are not actually part of creation. They are in reality one with Parmshiva. They are considered to be two tattvas only for the convenience of philosophical thinking and as a way of clarifying the two aspects of the one Absolute Reality-Parmshiva. Shivatattva is transcendental unity and shakti tattva is universal diversity. The changeless Absolute and pure Consciousness is Shiva while as natural tendency of Shiva towards the outward manifestation of divine activities is Shakti.

3. Sadashiva Tattva (also known as Iccha tattva)
The desire (Iccha) for creation takes place very faintly. While the Absolute is limitless I-Consciousness (aham), small desire for objectivity “this” (idam) takes place. The beings at this stage are known as mantra maheswaras with the presiding deity Sadashiva Bhattaraka who is actually Parmshiva Himself and has descended to this level as the master of creation.

4. Isvara Tattva (also known as jnana Tattva)
The awareness (jnana) of I-Consciousness is not lost but the awareness of “this-ness” begins to dominate. Awareness shines as “This is myself”. Created beings at this stage of manifestation are known as ‘mantreshwaras’ and the presiding deity is Iswara Bhattaraka.

5. Sadvidya (also known as Shuddvidya or kriya) Tattva
The vision of the beings in the 3rd and 4th elements above has been defined as “unity in diversity and diversity in unity” as “I-ness” and “this-ness” is still not balanced. When the vision becomes balanced so that there is equal emphasis on “I-ness” and “this-ness”, it is called Sadvidya. At a further stage of diversity, where the awareness of “I-ness” becomes “I am I” and of “this-ness” becomes “this is this”, this is called Mahamaya. Beings living in this stage are known as “mantras” and the presiding deity is Anantnatha. He is actually Ishwara Bhattaraka who has descended to this level as the divine administrator of further creation.

6. Maya Tattva
This is the final tattva created by the Lord Himself that is considered to be “impure” i.e. filled with limitations. It has two main effects:

a) it hides the pure and divine nature of created beings residing in its plane and consequently they forget their purity and infiniteness of their I-consciousness as well as their infinite potency. Hence they are given the name anu (atoms) i.e. finite beings or pashu (animal-like) or simply man Nara. b) they see every other activity as different from what they are.

Maya is thus the plane of Absolute self-oblivion and diversity. This is the abode of the finite beings. Under its influence, being loose its state of oneness with the Absolute and also their divine potency. Maya causes feeling of imperfection and emptiness within the beings which they try to fill up with outer objects which leads to development of desire and passions for objects of enjoyment.

B. Five layers of limitations (Kuncukas)
The deity Anantnatha who presides over maya and is the master of mahamaya shakes up maya, so to say, causing it to expand into the next five tattvas – collectively called kuncukas or cloaks which covers the real nature of the knowing objects. Sometimes maya tattva is itself included as the sixth kuncuka.

7. Kala Tattva(limitation of activity, authorship)
To fulfill our desires, maya allows a little power of action to achieve a little amount of success.

8. Avidya (ashudh) Tattva (limitation of knowledge)
Since doing is not possible without knowing, maya gives a little knowledge to know a certain amount.

9. Raga Tattva (limitation of interest)
To further the limit the scope of our doing and knowing, maya appears in us as raga or ‘limited interest’.

10. Niyati Tattva (restriction)
Niyati is the law of nature that establishes the order of succession in all phenomenons e.g. the way in which seed develops into a tree. This law of nature appears as the law of restriction and causation.

11. Akala (or Kaala) Tattva (Time sequence limitation)
The above four limitations, limit our capacity of knowing and doing but this tattva limits our very being as well. Our real self is in fact infinite and is in no way conditioned by concept of time imposed on us by maya in the way that we feel “we were”, “we are”, and “we shall be”. Thus imposing on us conditions of time sequence.

12. Parusha Tattva
The I-Consciousness reduced to utter finitude is known as Parusha. It is also known as jiva, pashu , anu nara.

13. Prakriti (or mul prakriti) Tattva
Prakriti is the un-diversified source of all the remaining 23 elements as established by Vedanta system. This represents the complete “this-ness” of the objective manifestation.

C. Thirteen (13) instrumental tattvas

C1. The three (3) interior instrumental elements (antah-karnas):

14. Buddhi (intellect)– Faculty of judgement
15. Manas – Faculty of Imagination
16. Ahamkara – Personal ego

C2. Five (5) exterior elements of perception (jnanendrayas):

17. Sravanendreya (Hearing)
18. Supershanendreya (Feeling by touch)
19. Darshanendreya (Seeing)
20. Resanendreya (Taste)
21. Ghranendreya (Smell)

C3. Five (5) elements of action (karmendreya):

22. Vagendreya (Voice or expression)
23. Hastendreya (Handling)
24. Padendreya (Locomotion)
25. Payvendreya (Rejecting, Discharging)
26. Upasthendreya (Resting or recreating)

D. Ten (10) objective elements:
D1. Five (5) subtle objective elements (tanmatras):

27. Shabdatanmra (sound)
28. Sparshatanmra (Feel)
29. Rupatanmra (Color)
30. Rasatanmra (Flavor)
31. Ghandhatanmra (Odour)

D2. Five (5) gross objective elements (bhutas):

32. Akasha (ether)
33. Vayu (Air)
34. Agni (Fire)
35. Apas (Water)
36. Pritvi (Earth)

Kashmir Shaivism does not consider the above analysis of manifestation as final. It is only a tool for contemplative meditation. Through a further analysis the number of elements (tattvas) can be increased to any level and similarly through synthesis they can be decreased to only one tattva. For example, the practitioners of Trika system use only three tattvas in the process of their Yoga meditation viz. – Shiva (Absolute Unity), Shakti (link between unity and duality), and Nara (extreme duality).

Three important observations to highlight the differences in the manifestation philosophies of Vendana and Kashmir Shaivism are:

a) Purusha
While the Purusha of Vedanta is a Universal soul (God-like), He is atmen (pure spirit). In contrast, in Kashmir Shaivism it is bound soul – a jiva, nara, pashu or anu – a limited soul.

b) Prakriti
Prakriti in Vedanta is involved in manifestation as an independent element. It is a cosmic substance that is termed as perennial impulse in nature (like Shakti tattva). But the Prakriti of the Kashmir Shaivism deals with limited jiva only.

c) Maya
Maya in the Vedanta is the means of operation. It is not an element. It is force that creates the illusion of non-perception in nature. It has no reality. It is only the appearance of fleeting forms which are all unreal and like mirage vanishes when the knowledge of reality draws. In contrast, in Kashmir Shaivism maya is a tattva. It is real. It is the power of contraction or limiting the nature of five universal modes of consciousness. It cannot be separated from Absolute Reality – Parmshiva.

5. Three Gunas (attributes)
Vedanta describes Prakriti as a combination of three Gunas – Satvic, Rajas, and Tamas. Further it describes the nature of these gunas. Thus Satva is enlightenment and pleasure; Rajas is turbulence and pain; and Tamas is ignorance and lethargy. It does not explain the source of the nature of these gunas.
Kashmir Shaivism has examined this issue. In their view, Paramshiva possesses limitless power to know, to do, and to diversify. These powers are known as jnana, kriya, and maya. By the limitations brought about by maya, the Infinite Consciousness is reduced to finite consciousness – purusha (the limited being, anu or pashu).Here they view these experiences as pleasure, pain, and ignorance.

6. Moksha (liberation from bondage)
In Vedanta we have four fold description for achieving liberation from bondage: i) Discrimination
ii) Dispassion
iii) Right Conduct
iv) Desire for liberation

To get liberated one must:
i) act with zeal and faith
ii) act for the good of humanity
iii) get immersed in meditation

Kashmir Shaivism has a simple prescription for liberation from bondage. The logic behind this is that just ignorance is inspired by God so is revelation inspired by Him. This inspiration of divine knowledge is known as His Grace (anugraha) or the Descent of His powers (shaktipata). Only those individuals who receive Lords Shaktipata become interested in path of correct knowledge for achieving moksha. Three types of shaktipata have been described: i) Tivra (swift) shaktipata
ii) Madya (moderate) shaktipata
iii) Manda (slow) shaktipata

Each of the above has further three sub divisions, thus making a total of nine shaktipatas. There is no restriction of caste, color, or creed for achieving moksha. Yoga is the means of liberation.

7. Yoga
Both Vedanta as well as Kashmir Shaivism recommends Yoga for achieving moksha. However, there are differences in practice.
In Vedanta Yoga practices, emphasis is laid on controlling mind by strict discipline in day-to-day life that for its success can be practiced by highly motivated ones or ascetics. A Shiva Yogi is free to live without restrictions – be a householder – and participate in the pleasures of the senses of the mind (bhoga) within the limits of the socially accepted norms. He is advised to pursue some yogic practices known as trika yoga that leads its practitioner to self-bliss and at that stage the lust for worldly enjoyments automatically loose its charm. At that stage, senses develop a spontaneous indifference known as anadaravikrati to former pleasures. The three yogic practices of trika system are:

i) Shambhavayoga – In this highest form of practice, the minds’ tendency is to think of himself as one with Ultimate Reality and nothing else. The practitioner stands still and loses itself in the vibrant glow of I-consciousness. It is the practice of non-ideation (nirvikalpa).
ii) Shaktiyoga – In this practice, one uses the mind and imagination to constantly contemplate the real nature of Self as taught by Shiva monotheistic philosophy. One is supposed to think that one is everything and yet beyond everything. It is a practice of “pure-ideation” (shuddhvikalpa). It is also known as jnanayoga.
iii) Anavayoga – Its practice is recommended for those who are not capable of adopting the higher yogic practices mentioned above. Anu stands for finite ordinary beings bounded by their limitations and objective meditation is recommended for them where the focus of attention shifts to kriya (action).

Kashmir Shaivism encourages practitioners to start from higher yogic practices (shambhavayoga) down to the last by stages if he is not comfortable there. Vedantic yoga recommends a completely different set of yoga practices and one has to go up the ladder from lower practices to upper practices.

V. Conclusion

These are some of the main points of differences of philosophies. But we have to remember that purusha in Kashmir Shaivism is a finite being a man Pashu (animal like) because of his ignorance brought about by maya. He is free from sin and his highest goal is to get out of ignorance and merge his limited self with the Real Self. This is called Ascent. The way to reach there is through trika yoga.

To quote Swami Laxmanjoo, a great Kashmir Shivism scholar of the 20th century, “although Kashmir Shaivism can hardly be grasped unless the Vedanta philosophy is comprehended, yet no system of Vedanta will be complete without it”. Kashmir Shaivism gives most detail account of Ultimate Reality, Vedanta has done it in its way.



[1] B. N. Pandit, Specific Principles of Kashmir Shaivism, Published: Munshiram Motilal Publishers, New Delhi, 1997.

[2] Jaideva Singh, Pratyabijnahrdyam (The secret of Recognition), Published: Munshiram Motilal Publishers, New Delhi, 1998.

[3] Jaideva Singh, Vignana Bhairva: Divine Consciousness, Published: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, New Delhi, 1998.

[4] Abhinavgupta, Tantraloka, Vol 12, Published by KSTS Srinagar, Kashmir, 1918-1938.

[5] Kamlakar Mishra, Kashmir Shaivism (The central philosophy of Tantra), Published: Satguru Publications, New Delhi, 1999.


[1] http://www.kashmirshaivism.org

[2] http://members.aol.com/trikshaiva/

[3] http://www.koausa.org/Shaivism/

[4] http://www.nityanandainstitute.org/kash.htm

[5] http://www.wordtrade.com/religion/kashmir.htm

[6] http://www.digiserve.com/mystic/Hindu/Abhinavagupta/index.html

[7] http://www.kheper.net/topics/Trika/Trika.htm

[8] http://www.universalshaivafellowship.org/


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: